Bringing a Flower to Life

Spring is right around the corner, and one of my favorite subjects in nature to photograph is the many flowers that “spring” to life at this time of year. Whether it is wildflowers in the Columbia River Gorge, or Dahlias that are planted for commercial purposes, bringing a flower to life photographically can be a very rewarding and challenging endeavor.

In August, the Dahlia farms in Canby, Oregon are in full bloom and offer hundreds of varieties to not only purchase, but to fill your viewfinder with incredible colors and patterns. It is always a challenge to photograph any given variety of flower and make it “pop” in some artistic manner, as well as manage a pleasing composition. As always, light is just one of the very important keys to pulling off a successful image.

 

dahlia

When photographing flowers, as well as with most subjects, harsh afternoon light is not an option. I arrived at sunrise at the Dahlia farms hoping for nice directional, warm morning light. I really liked the color of this particular flower, and the shape of the individual petals. I wanted a nice soft and even light on the face of the flower, so I brought a 22” diffuser with me which I hand-held between the light and the flower until I had a nice even light on the petals.  The direction of your primary light source is very important, as you do not want any shadows. Now that I had a nice even front light (the sun) and I had it controlled the way I wanted, it was time to really bring this Dahlia to life. How did I do that? I utilized an off camera flash fired by a Pocket Wizard which I also hand-held directly behind the flower giving me a backlight effect. It took a few test shots to determine the right amount of light I was looking for and that magical sweet spot to make the Dahlia really pop.

I arranged my composition as the very first step in this process. I had my camera on a tripod and a Wimberley “Plamp” attached to one leg and to the stem of the flower to help assist in holding it still. The Plamp is an invaluable tool to utilize for flower photography they can even hold a diffuser/reflector for you if needed. Really the key to being successful in creating any image is pre-visualizing what you want to create. Figure out ahead of time what it will take to make it happen. Plan the gear needed to create a certain effect, whether it is a particular filter, a flash, or something to shape the light. If you think about it, visualizing exactly WHAT you want to create rather than just going out and firing away mindlessly will bring you home with many more keepers. This works for any type of photography.

As far as post-processing goes, I really didn’t do a whole lot to this image. Slightly enhanced detail through contrast adjustments, sharpened, and that is about it. Flowers if lit properly are full of saturation, and usually very little needs to be added. One other very important thing to do as a final step is view the image at 200% and take the spot healing brush (or other means) to remove any specks of dirt or other debris that may be on the petals; think of this as final image clean-up. The key that I have found for flower photography is learning how to light them correctly. If you do that, you are ready to make gorgeous images!

Below are a few other examples of photographs created using the above techniques.

Dahlias - Natures Wild PhotographyDahlias - Natures Wild PhotographyDahlias - Natures Wild Photography

Camera Equipment
Canon EOS 1D Mk IV
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
Gitzo tripod w/ Really Right Stuff BH40 Ballhead
Wimberly Plamp
Fotodiox 22” Diffuser
Canon 580EX2 Speedlite
Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 and Mini TT1

Camera Settings
ISO 100
Aperture f/20
Shutter Speed 1/40sec.

Software
Photoshop or Lightroom – Primary photo editing software
Topaz Plugins (Topazlabs.com)

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